East Coast Gauntlet: CHOO 70.3, Raleigh 70.3, Eagleman 70.3

As I did last year, I decided to race three 70.3 events in four weeks as the culmination of my winter/spring training.  I opened up with Chattanooga 70.3 on May 20th, raced Raleigh 70.3 on June 3rd, and capped off the cluster of racing at Eagleman 70.3 on June 10th.  This block ended up treating me well in 2017, with a 2nd, 7th, and 4th overall placings, so I was of course confident I could do it again successfully and was hoping to improve upon my results cumulatively as well.

 

In terms of my training leading into the races, I recorded 19:30 hours of training on average in the 20 weeks from January 1st until Chattanooga 70.3.  Forty-six percent of that time was spent on the bike, 28% on the swim, and 26% on the run.  I managed to stay injury-free during this entire stretch.  I recorded a 5:48 500 SCY time trial and a slew of monster bike sessions that gave me some confidence with my swim and bike fitness.  After a decent spring of running road races that saw me record a 15:29 5k, a 32:31 10k, and a 1:11:58 half marathon, I was confident that my running was on track to catapult me up the standings if I was close enough after the swim and bike.

The start list for Chattanooga was impressive, with multiple Ironman and 70.3 champions as well as several other podium contenders.  I was certainly going to have my hands full in my opener.  Fortunately for me the swim was primarily downstream, and with a large amount of rain in the week leading up to the race, the current was moving.  I believe the race organizers cut the upstream section down substantially, so overall I was only in the water for just over 21 minutes.  For me, the less time I’m in the water, the better.  The start of the swim was hectic as always, and I found myself fighting to stay in a group that included Kevin Collington, Kevin Ryan, and a couple other very fast fish.  I managed to stay in their wake for about 3 minutes before they finally popped me off the back.  I spent the next three or four minutes swimming solo in no man’s land, between the first pack and the second pack.   Finally a couple others came up alongside me and I was able to work with them all the way to the finish, ending up right at the front end of the second pack.  I was a little nervous about how my swim performance went, as I didn’t recognize any of the guys I was swimming with, but as I emerged from the water, I quickly saw that my group was only about 20-25 seconds down from another group (I guess the REAL second pack) which included some big names, and guys that were going to end up being players in the race.  So I made my way through transition and made a big effort to bridge the gap to those guys.  In the process, they were bridging the gap to the remnants of the front swim pack, so by mile 20 of the bike, we had all collected in a draft legal line, and rolling through the Georgia countryside.  The pack grew close to 10-12 guys by mile 30.  I didn’t particularly feel comfortable riding in such a large line, especially on a hilly course where the line would accordion naturally due to speed changes from uphills to downhills.  It made me nervous, so around mile 30 I made a big push to move to the front of the line, and then I told myself to drill it for 10 minutes and see if I could whittle the pack down to a more manageable number.  I didn’t look back once during that time, but close to 10 minutes passed, and eventually Matt Hanson came by me and let me know that a gap had opened up between the two of us and everyone else.  This was actually more than I had hoped for, and I was feeling good, so for the next 20 minutes Matt and I took turns for about 4 minutes keeping the speed high and keeping the chasing group at bay.  Right around his third turn at the front Hanson managed to gap me.  In the process of chasing him down, I caught and passed Kevin Collington, who stuck with me until the end of the ride.  We came into transition about 30 seconds behind Hanson, 2 minutes behind Jackson Laundry, and close to 8 minutes behind Andrew Starkyowicz.  I felt good and opened up the run with a  couple miles in the mid 5:30’s before settling down into a more manageable tempo of mid 5:40’s.  Kevin and I worked well together for the first 4 miles, and then I got a little excited and took off in pursuit of Hanson and anyone else I could pick up along the way.  Hanson was still feeling his incredible race at IM Texas a few weeks beforehand, so he stayed in close proximity, and from mile 4 to mile 9 I meticulously cut his lead down to just a few meters.  Then it took me another 2 miles to finally close the gap.  I was able to stay strong all the way to the finish, and to my surprise, I finished 3rd overall, only 1:48 down to the eventual champion Starkyowicz.  It was no doubt one of my best triathlon races, and it gave me a huge shot of confidence.

 

After spending a few days recovering and about 7 days getting in some decent training, I tapered back down to give Raleigh a great shot.  I had my eyes set on the podium yet again, and I knew with a great race, I would give myself a shot at it.  The swim was a lot more honest here, if anything it might have even been a little long, so after sticking with the front group for a few minutes before being “the guy” to get popped off the back (again), I swam in no man’s land for an even longer time before I had company.  After 10 minutes of solo swimming, Ricky Flynn came up alongside me as well as one other racer, and we were able to keep the pace honest for the remainder of the swim.  I got out just over 28 minutes, which like I said, was not nearly as good for me as only spending 21 minutes in the swim like I did 2 weeks before.  That extra 7 minutes allowed the front pack to create a larger gap, and that was going to take quite an effort to close it down.  Transition took a bit longer as my swim skin zipper got stuck and I had to Houdini my way out of it before getting on my bike.  Once on the bike I was able to see my time gaps to the leaders.  I had about 5-6 minutes to the lead and 3 minutes to the next closest rider.  My legs felt amazing and I was pushing big power, but something seemed a little off with how I was moving on course.  The bike just didn’t seem to respond quite as well.  I rode the entire way with Benton Hall and Vinicius Canhedo before picking up two more guys around mile 50 and coming into transition all together.  While the overall temperatures were similar to Chattanooga two weeks beforehand, the humidity was off the charts nasty.  I started suffering on the run almost immediately, and Alex Libin, who started the run just behind me, took advantage right away.  Running in 4th and 5th overall off the bike, he opened up a small gap on me within the first 2 miles, and I immediately had a gut check and went to the limit to try to maintain contact with him, as he was moving well.  My entire run ended up bleeding just a few seconds here and a few seconds there all the way to mile 10.  By that point he was about 45 seconds ahead of me, and I had totally lost contact.  At that point he ran lights out the last 5k to catch 3rd and secure a spot on the podium, and I basically did what I could to close the gap to 4th, but ultimately ended up about a minute short.  Still, for a race where I had a couple of mishaps and things didn’t go my way, taking 5th was a nice result.  Certainly validation that on a good day, I should be competing for a podium spot in just about any 70.3 I enter.

 

 

 

 

Raleigh left a really bad taste in my mouth (or was that the Orange Gatorade?).  I was definitely fit and a couple of mistakes potentially cost me a couple of minutes and as it turned out a couple of places.  Eagleman was going to be a race of redemption for me.  I’ve had a good track record at Eagleman.  In my first race two years ago I finished 2nd overall, and last year I finished 4th.  I was definitely hungry to get back on the podium and be a challenger for the title.  Cody Beals was back, as was Andrew Yoder and a newcomer to the race, Tim Rea who came in with an impressive resume.  Add to it a couple of guys I had never raced before, I it was shaping up to be another good battle.  Eagleman changed the race just a bit this year, and instead of starting in the Choptank River, we had a beach start.  The tide was so low that the water was waist deep, probably 300m into the middle of the river.  So the start was just chaotic.  Nobody really knew what to do (dolphin dives for 300m?  Swim?  Just wade through the water?) so naturally the pro field ended up doing a little bit of everything.  Most guys started out with dolphin dives for a while.  Then about half of the field started swimming (myself included).  Some guys just started wading through the water, and oddly, they were moving just as fast as those of use swimming.  So for a brief bit I stood up, waded for a bit, dolphin dived a little bit more, and then once we got deep enough everyone was off swimming.  I think the confusion on what to do caused some guys to maybe go over the red line a bit more than normal, and so a main pack never formed in this swim.  There was one guy way off the front, then Yoder and Beals about a minute back, two other guys a minute behind them, and then I came in about a minute later by myself.  I could see the two guys a minute ahead of me, so I knew I could bridge up to them on the bike.  What I didn’t expect s how long it took for me to do so.  I rode solo until about mile 30 where I finally caught the pair.  Knowing I didn’t want to mess around and give the three other guys up the road any more time to play with on the run, I shot straight past the pair and kept my power steady and strong.  Tim Rea was able to go with me, the other guy dropped off pretty quickly.  I was hoping Rea would pull through at least once or twice to help me out in the final 25 miles, but I never asked, and he never did, so I just put my head down and went all the way to T2.  I managed to record my fastest ever 56 mi bike split at 2:04:43, putting Rea and me about a minute and a half down to Yoder and a little over 3 minutes down to Beals.  I had no idea who the third guy up ahead was, but apparently he was moving, because he hit the run about 2 minutes ahead of Beals.  I was first focused on distancing myself from Rea, and I figured in the process that would help me make up time on some of the guys ahead of me.  Very quickly out of transition I opened up a 10 second lead that ballooned to about a minute after 3 miles.  Yoder had dropped out early in the run, so the 3rd place biker started trailing me.  At that point even though we were “enjoying” some of the mildest conditions Eagleman has ever had, it was still getting hot and the sun was beating down on the open pavement.  Around mile 5 I spotted second way up in the distance, and I used him as a carrot over the next 4 miles.  I finally made the pass to move into second place between miles 9 and 10, and after hearing that Beals was about 5 minutes up the road, I basically started playing defense, making sure that I could protect 2nd as Rea was still within striking distance about 70 seconds back. I was of course very happy to finish 2nd again, and it was my best finish of the racing block, so it was a great way to end the first part of my season.

 

 

I am still just as motivated as ever to keep training and racing hard, and I still have confidence that I can put myself into position to break the tape at a 70.3 in the near future.  Credit to my success goes to my wife, who is so supportive of my lifestyle, my coach Dave Luscan, who has prepared me well for the rigors of racing professionally, and to my Snapple team and sponsors:  without you, I would not have the support and equipment that get me from start to finish as fast as possible.

 

Not sure exactly what race is next, but most likely I’ll start again in August and roll through the fall on the professional circuit.  Happy training and racing, and thanks for reading.

“Are We Trading Happiness for Convenience?” Part II

Happy New Year everyone!  I hope you’re surviving and thriving through the winter weather.  A few days ago, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times entitled “Are We Trading Happiness for Convenience?”  by Greg Jackson.  The author comments on the constantly changing landscape of the media world, primarily with disappearing video and record stores.  He understands the economic impact of streaming services and music apps but wonders more philosophically whether the pleasure of the thing (whether it’s a movie or a song) lies in the thing itself, or in the experiential process of discovery.

Which got me to thinking about triathlon, naturally.  I’ve always been fascinated with the idea that I derive pleasure from an activity that, in the midst of it, is many times quite the opposite.  In fact, I seem to glean more pleasure from enduring especially difficult endeavors, whether it’s completing a morning run in 35F and rain, finishing off a set of zone 5 intervals on the bike, or simply getting healthy again from an injury.  So just like I loved visiting the local record store and pining endlessly through the racks of albums to find the perfect selection, it’s that task difficulty that often makes doing this sport worth it.

Let’s be honest:  this sport is tough.  Many people will look for quicker, more streamlined ways to make this triathlon experience easier, but perhaps they are robbing themselves of some gratification by skipping out on some of the process?  Success in triathlon requires sacrifice, patience, and above all, consistency.  Those who consistently get out and do the work will reap the greatest benefits in fitness, and subsequently in races and results. As Mr. Jackson says, “we need pleasures that involve us, that do not merely pass through us, like barium, untouched.”

Embrace the challenges that triathlon presents.  Recognize your growth both physically, mentally, and emotionally through your yearly endeavors.  Celebrate overcoming some of the hardest obstacles.  Appreciate the experience and don’t let the daily monotony of triathlon pass through your senses, eliminating the self-discoveries that can accompany it.

2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships

It was a testament to my performance earlier in the year to even receive a chance to be in this race, and for that I am immensely proud and thankful.  At the end of the qualifying period, I was ranked 92nd on the 70.3 points list, but due to other commitments, injuries, travel, etc., many decided to pass on their slot, so the 49th slot ended up rolling down to yours truly.  I was already committed to racing the Patriots Half in Williamsburg that weekend, but as Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) once said, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat.  Just get on.”  So I reset my goals for that weekend and got on with it.

I kept the lead up to the race as normal as any other race.  It was nice going into a race with absolutely no pressure by anyone other than myself.  As I was ranked basically last in the field, every person I beat would be a huge feather in my cap.

 

  

I knew that although I had been working well on my swim, I was in for quite the uphill battle when it came to the start of this race.  Usually there are a few guys who go off the front, perhaps even a small lead pack depending on the quality of the field, and I am able and consistently ready to join what I would consider the second pack out in the water.  Every once in a while the stars will align and I’ll make the main group.  Well in this race, the main group consisted of guys who would ALL be off the front in some of these smaller races.  So I had identified a few guys without a swimming pedigree who I could potentially group up with if I couldn’t hang on the coattails of the main group.  And sure enough, that was the case.  We started with a dive off a pontoon (which was a first for me) and while it made me a little nervous not knowing how diving off of a pontoon with 40 other guys would be, it turned out not too bad.  I came up to pretty clean water right away and immediately worked to get into a draft and hang there as long as possible.  Unfortunately I had to start on basically the far left side of the line, so I didn’t have as big of a wake to follow as some others who started closer to the middle (although I may not have had to deal with as much melee, either, so who knows).  Either way, by the end of the first 300m I found myself in dead last with one other swimmer.  I was happy I had company, and I was intent on keeping our pace strong throughout to limit the time to the field.  What was advertised as an upstream swim turned out to be mainly a regular swim since the current was all but non-existent.  There were a couple of swimmers that had hung on a little longer to the pack but had since been dispatched, so the two of us focused on gathering up the remains.  As we picked up swimmers, the task became a little easier, as we had now a group of six sharing the pace making.  It seemed that everyone was keen on limiting the bleeding, so we all worked, even dropping one guy in our group off the back with a few hundred to go.

 

 

Coming out of the water just over 28 minutes was an average swim for me.  I had lost just about four minutes to the front two and about three minutes to the large group that came out of the water.  That is standard for me, and against such a strong swim field, I was actually pretty encouraged.  I was even more encouraged when I realized that coming out of the water with me were Sebastian Kienle, Jesse Thomas and Trevor Wurtele.  I figured I would probably let Kienle go, but I was prepared to ride with the other two strong cyclists in an effort to bridge the gaps.

The first five miles of the course were fairly uneventful.  I didn’t pop my bottle off my bike, which has become pretty standard practice in downtown Chattanooga over the past three years.  I kept contact with the group and made it to Lookout Mountain feeling good and ready to work.  Strategically, I made a pretty big error here.  While most of the courses I race are relatively flat or rolling, I only use a large chain ring on my bike.  It simplifies things, drops my bike weight, and makes me marginally more aero.  Well, for whatever reason, I decided to keep using only a front chain ring, so I approached Lookout Mountain with a 54-28 as my smallest gear combination.  Now I will say I did make it up the climb, and I felt pretty darn good doing so, but realistically, holding a cadence of 65 for close to 15-20 minutes @ 320 watts was not doing my legs any favors.

Anyways, I stayed with the group on the plateau section of Lookout Mountain.  Right at the end, a car pulled up beside me, decided to slot in between me and the guy up ahead of me, and then proceeded to just sit behind that rider.  It just so happened this occurred at the left hand turn right before the long fast downhill.  So the group of 4 got on their merry way, and I basically had to stop at the intersection so as not to get run over by this guy.  Of course he decided to go down the mountain as well, and of course he decided to only drive at like 35 mph, so I’m sitting up, stuck behind this car freewheeling downhill.  Eventually I had enough space and passed the guy on the inside, got up to 45 mph or so and tried to re-catch the group I had just been with minutes before.  It took me probably 15 miles to finally get back with the group.  When I did rejoin, they had picked up another 4-5 guys who had fallen back off their pace with the faster swim group.  So with 10 riders strong, we maneuvered through Chickamauga and back to the main highway.  Once we hit the highway, Jesse Thomas put in a big push at the front and the group splintered all over the place.  I was at the back, so attentively I moved around the guys that couldn’t hang and made the final selection of five coming back into T2 with Jesse Thomas, Trevor Wurtele, Mario de Elias, and Antoine J. Desroches.  Some of you may have read Jesse Thomas’ race report, and unlike Jesse who was supremely disappointed in his bike ride, I was pretty pleased with mine.  I averaged 286 watts (.87 IF) and that was about 10 watts greater than any 70.3 I had completed this year.  So while my ride certainly wasn’t perfect in all ways, I was happy with my effort, and pleased that I got off the bike with a group to run with.

Legs didn’t feel super (probably thanks to Lookout Mountain) but nutrition had been good, so all in all I was ready to run.  The five of us spread out pretty quickly, and unfortunately I was the second one to get popped off the group only about a half mile into the run.

I kept the other three in sight about 20 seconds up on me, and kept working to hold the gaps small.  Around mile 3, de Elias started coming back to me, so over the next 2 miles I really focused to reeling him in.  He wasn’t running slowly, so once I caught him I figured I would have an ally to work with for a while.  I passed him and immediately a gap formed, but about a half mile later he re-passed me and put in a pretty heavy surge that I couldn’t sustain.  In the meantime, we both caught Wurtele.

With seven miles remaining, I had de Elias about 10 seconds out in front of me, trying to close down the gap he had created.  We started getting mixed up in the age group race, and by the end of the second loop, de Elias had put another 10 seconds of so into me.  As we turned to the finish, I noticed he had just passed a fading athlete, but by that time it was too late, and I came into the finish chute 26th.

I had a hard time dealing with this race.  On one hand, I earned the right to race, and it was an opportunity not many professionals in the sport get to have.  On the other, I might as well have been in a totally separate race, as I was never in contention from about the first 300m of the swim on.  It was a solid race, not an exceptional one, and although I performed pretty well, it’s been hard for me to stay really motivated on the run when I know that the race is 10+ minutes ahead of me.  The best runs I’ve had over the past two years have been Eagleman 2016 (finished 2nd Overall), Chattanooga 70.3 2017 (finished 2nd overall), and Eagleman 2017 (4th overall).  When I’m actually racing for something that’s meaningful to me, I can bring it up another level.  When it’s the difference between 26th and 23rd overall, it’s much more difficult to destroy myself.  Getting out on the run and realizing that I would need to run basically a 1:10 just to move into 10th is a tough pill to swallow.  So psychologically I am going to have to work on that, as my swim will more than likely always be subpar compared to the very top swimmers, and my bike will still put me into T2 with a deficit.  If I want to get the best out of myself, I need to be able to turn it on no matter how the race is going and no matter how far down I may be.

2017 Eagleman 70.3

This year I attempted to race three 70.3 events in four weeks.  Eagleman was the final race of my spring campaign, and with a 2nd and 7th placings at my first two events, I was confident that another top 5 was in the cards.

As always, the swim start was quite chaotic, and I mixed it up with the best for a few minutes before eventually fighting to stay on the feet of the tail end of the group.  Matt Russell was directly in front of me, and for a few minutes the gap was large enough where I wasn’t quite in his draft and had to work extremely hard to catch back and join the train.  Eventually around the second turn, I caught a second wind and reeled the group.  Unfortunately by the time I rejoined the group, there had been a split further up in the group.  I counted four of us in this group, and soon I found myself very comfortable.  At that instant, I knew I had to get to the front and drive the pace to limit the time to the leaders.  I got to the front and did just that, leading the group onto land about three and a half minutes down from the leaders and a minute and a half down from the main chase group.

As I have grown accustomed to, Matt Russell and I exited the swim within seconds of one another.  Due to some unfortunate timing, my powermeter battery was dead, so I would be riding solely on RPE.  I decided as I was mounting my bike that I I would do whatever it took to stay within contact of Russell on the bike.  This plan was optimistic, as Russell has outsplit me on the bike by a few minutes each race, but I was up for the challenge.  After we both missed a turn and rode about .4 extra miles before getting back on course, Matt went to work, and I just put my head down and pushed the pedals hard enough to stay within 50 meters of him.  We ended up catching most of the main swim group right around mile 20, but didn’t stay too long.  Russell was on a mission, and I continued to try to stay in his wake.  It was around mile 40 that his lead became large enough where I could see him, but distantly.  At mile 45 he caught one of the lead swimmers, but he ended up sticking with Russell and riding with him out of sight for the last 10 miles of the ride.

As I rode into transition, I heard I was about a minute back from the two up ahead and another 90 seconds down to Cody Beals.  The leading two racers were well up the road.  My legs felt good, my stomach felt good, and I got to work.  I caught Kevin Ryan just as we approached the mile mark for 5th, and then slowly crept up on Russell, catching and passing him by the 5k mark.  I was expecting to be able to work together with him for a while, but when I passed him a gap immediately opened up.  I went with it, and tried to maintain my pace of running 5:50-6:10 pace in the hot, open run course.  By mile 6 it appeared that I had put about 20 seconds into Russell, so I was confident that I could finish the run strong in 4th.  What I didn’t know at the time was that Andrew Yoder, who had started the run in 2nd, had been quickly coming back to me.  By mile 10 I could see him and the 3rd place cyclist, and by mile 10.5 I had moved into 3rd.  Almost simultaneously Russell reappeared in my rearview mirror, and was threatening only 5 seconds back.  With only about 2 miles to go, I put my head down and started as hard of a kick as I could to maintain my gap, but Russell was moving much more swiftly, and soon passed me and continued to put about 40 seconds into me over the final mile and a half of the race.  I completed the race in 4th, which normally I would have been thrilled with, but after having tasted 3rd briefly in the late stages of the race, I was left with a disappointed taste in my mouth that I didn’t have the legs to close it out and maintain a podium position.

After looking back at my month, I am fairly satisfied with the progress I’ve made and how I was able to display that progress in racing situations.  I made the main pack in one swim and second pack in two swims, I finished in the money in all three races, and I podiumed for just the second time in a 70.3.  Now for a little rest and planning for the second half of the 2017 season!

Raleigh 70.3

I decided to add Raleigh to my race schedule this year.  I was determined to take the lessons learned from Chattanooga and apply them in my race execution here.  The swim featured quite a number of quick athletes, so when the gun sounded, a good, solid group of about 8 guys pulled off the front into 2 separate packs almost immediately, which left a large group of more mediocre swimmers in charge of focusing the large main pack.  A third of the way through the swim I noticed Matt Russell swimming right next to me on my right and Thomas Gerlach’s signature teal tri suit (sans speedsuit) just ahead, so initially I was pleased with where I was and was content to stay put.  Unfortunately it seemed no one in this pack was really keen on driving the pace at the front, so by the halfway point the pace really started lagging, and the group, which consisted of at least 10 guys, really bunched up and I started getting a bunch of elbows and kicks.  When I’m not stretched to stay with a group, I know I’m either in the wrong group, or whatever group I’m in is going to have a large gap to whoever happened to get off the front earlier.  And that was exactly the case today.  We all exited together, but we gave the lead packs 2-5 minutes out of the water, which would be tough to pull back.

I attempted to make my way through transition efficiently, hopped on the bike in 5th out of about 10 guys in the group, and then quickly passed two of the guys.  Russell, Gerlach, and Michael Poole had gapped everyone, and I went to work to bridge the gap.  In the process of catching Gerlach and Poole, I passed Luke McKenzie, who had a minute gap on us out of the water.   By mile seven I had caught Gerlach and Poole with Russell up the road.  I was encouraged that I had a couple allies to work with in the pursuit, but after three or four miles or pulling, I discovered only Poole had stuck with me.  Over the next 45 miles, we traded off the lead legally and came into transition about a minute down from a group of three.

The run didn’t pan out very well for me today.  My stomach was a complete brick from taking in too many calories and not enough water, so I trudged through the run at a fairly pedestrian pace.  I managed to move into 7th overall by mile 5, but after that I stalled a bit and was never able to pick up enough momentum to make a charge for 6th.

Overall I had an average swim, and average bike, and a below average run, which results in 7th overall just over 4 hours and 4 minutes.  On to Eagleman!

2017 Chattanooga 70.3

For those who don’t already know, my life changed fairly dramatically in January, as I decided to refocus my efforts on racing and coaching.  I currently maintain my position as the Health and PE Curriculum Coordinator with Williamsburg-James City County, but I am no longer teaching in addition to those responsibilities.  Instead I have doubled down on making athletics, and triathlon in particular, part of my job.  As a result, I have been able to allocate additional time to train and recover, I have less day to day stress overall, and I have had increased opportunities to be dad and to help Tori with family duties.  That’s not to say that the decision wasn’t risky, but if you don’t take risks, you’ll never see rewards.

 

All year I’ve really had a mindset shift in the way in which I approach my training and racing.  This is my job.  It’s work.  That’s not to say it isn’t fun, but ultimately I would argue that to do the work to be successful day in and day out, it’s not always fun in the moment.  Pushing your boundaries and growing is not always fun.  Ask anyone who has ever raced a marathon if they’re having fun at mile 22.  But the accomplishment of a tough task and the potential for achieving great things makes the day to day struggles bearable.  The opportunity to reach or exceed your goals makes you want to keep driving in the last third of the race.

 

Since 2014 I have made the pilgrimage to Chattanooga, either for the full or the half, knowing that with a current assisted swim and tough run course, this was well suited to my strengths.  For the past three races, it just never quite worked out for me, and I was never able to capitalize.  I was hoping the fourth try would be better.

The current in the Chattanooga River seemed to be screaming after a few weeks of heavy rainfall, so the game plan for the swim was basically to start out full throttle for the first 10 minutes upstream to catch as much benefit from the faster swimmers as I could, and once I reached the turn buoy, I could let the current do most of the work.  As always, the start of the swim was kind of a mess, I got tangled up in a bunch of arms and feet just trying to stay in the wake of the front pack.  Eventually the string broke, as it did for a couple of us, and we formed a nice second group.  I’m not sure who ended up driving the pace in our group, but it was quick enough where I was content to stay on hips and feet and head out on the bike with whoever I was swimming with.  When we climbed out of the river, I noticed there were at least 5 of us together (maybe with more right behind?) but learning from last year’s full, I made sure to make quick work out of T1 so I could maintain contact with the group on the bike.  I exited T1 with four riders from our group ahead of me, and then went to work.  Matt Russell was at the front of the group, and he was aiming to bridge the gap to the front bike pack, who was a little over a minute and a half up the road.  The group immediately split a little bit, but I kept them within eyesight until about mile 20 when I started to work back to the group.  I caught the group somewhere around mile 40, rode with them for about 5 miles, and then took off in the last 10 miles or so to try to close down time between me and the front of the field.  I had absolutely no idea how many guys were in that front swim pack or how far ahead they would be, but when I dismounted in T2 I was pleasantly surprised to see 6 guys just heading out of T2 with the 2nd and 3rd place overall bikes riding with them.  So although I was coming off the bike with a couple guys myself, I knew I was only about 2 minutes off second heading into the run.  I liked the sound of that.

My legs felt way better off a similar bike ride at last year’s CHOO 70.3, so I was ready to attack instead of just hoping to hang on.  I closed the gap to 7th within 2 miles, and although 2nd through 7th had spread out considerably over that time, they were all lined up in front of me, and I could see that the gap between me and 2nd had even come down a bit since the start of the run.  I had no idea where first was, but I heard around mile 4 that we was about 7 minutes up the road.  At that point I (incorrectly) assumed that nobody would see him again until the finish line, and I just tried to catch as many guys as I could in the little “pain train” that was lined up in front of me.  As it turned out, I caught one guy every couple of miles or so, put in a little surge each time, and then settled back in.  By mile 10 I had moved into 3rd, and with Matt Russell still about 90 seconds ahead, I figured I would give it what I had to get a decent time, but my place probably wasn’t going to change over the final 5k.  To my surprise, with 2 miles to go on the last turnaround, I saw the lead bike wait and change positions to follow Matt, and quickly realized that while I was having my own personal battles catching this long line of runners, Matt had been driving this line trying to close down the gap to the leader, who was coming back quickly.  I got a gap to him at 45 seconds with a mile and a half to go, and I absolutely knew I could bridge up to him and had the legs to make it a race in the final stretch if need be.  It ended up only taking me about half a mile to take those 45 seconds out of him, and I politely made the pass and then let it rip down off the pedestrian bridge and down to the riverfront for the finish.  The race unfolded almost perfectly today, as I was able to get into a good swim pack, work comfortably hard and stay within reach on the bike, and then use my run to close it out.  It would have been amazing to have been able to bridge up to Russell, the champion, and make a race of it in the final miles, but he was just too strong today, and I just didn’t execute quite well enough to put myself in position to have that chance.  Fortunately I know some things that can be changed, and I know I am capable to doing those things effectively moving forward.

I could not be happier about the support I have this year.  I line up on the swim start knowing I have the best swimskin on the market in the Xterra Valor.  My LG Tri Kit fit like a glove all day, the Diamondback Serios was quick and responsive, my Rudy Project Boost was perfect, King Apparel socks kept my feet super comfortable on the run, my SweatVac hat kept the sun out of my eyes when it popped out briefly (and when flipped backwards gave me an additional mental boost (Over the Top, anyone?), and I relied exclusively on First Endurance products from Pre-race to post race to keep me hydrated and fueled throughout the day.  The Snapple Triathlon Team is a fantastic community to provide support from all across the country, and I’m thankful to be a part of it!

So all in all it was a great day for me!  I’m excited about the next few weeks of racing, and I know that the entire starting list of each race is clamoring to get up on the podium, so I’ll have my work cut out for me, and I’ll have to continue the work I’ve started this year.

Ironman Chattanooga 2016

For almost an entire year, I painted a picture in my head about what I wanted to accomplish at Ironman Chattanooga based on my effort there in 2014.  I had a solid race there, going 8:39 as a culmination of what I would consider a lackluster Ironman build.  I knew I was capable of more on that course, and I was confident I could lop off close to 20 minutes from that time this year.

That was, of course, if the weather conditions played nice.  The week of the race, forecasts called for race day temperatures in the mid to upper 90’s with little cloud cover, so I mentally prepared myself and readjusted parts of my race strategy so that I could thrive more successfully in the heat and humidity.

Looking back at IM CHOO 2014, I had been right with the main pack for about 10 minutes when the string broke and I lost contact.  Once I was off the group, I wasn’t strong enough to latch back on, and I ended up swimming the 30 remaining minutes of the swim solo, losing a few minutes to the main group.  I was surprised at how long the group pushed the swim at the beginning of an Ironman.  Well this year, I came into the race fully prepared and ready to get after the swim and do what it took to stay with the group.  I was confident and aggressive at the start and put myself in great position.  I worked with Chad Holderbaum and Matt Russell towards the back of the group, but I stayed comfortable and relaxed, and I was so pleased that I had made the group!  As the swim came to an end, the group definitely shifted gears a bit, and the tightly knit group spread out just a bit.  I was still with the group, but exited the water last, close to 15 seconds after the first guy in the group.

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Tail end of the swim packing whipping around the corner

Running through transition, I did my best to be efficient and get on my bike as quickly as possible.  So I hopped on my bike, and all of a sudden, where was everyone?  I saw Justin Daerr about 50 meters up the road and that was it.  I knew I didn’t beat everyone out of transition, so I knew they all had to be just up the road.  So I focused on catching Justin, and figured if I could bridge up to him, then I would be able to see other members who would be regrouping.  So I rode at close to 90% FTP through town.  Only problem was, not only was I riding well over my target pace, I was losing ground fast to Justin, and still couldn’t see anyone else up the road.  So I kept on the gas, and ended up riding close to 85% FTP for 40 minutes.  Eventually I couldn’t see Justin anymore, and at that point, I decided that riding at essentially HIM effort any longer would be severely detrimental to the long term outcome of my race.  So I scaled back and started riding within myself.  From that point until mile 50 I didn’t see another rider.  Once I started my second loop, I could at least key off of the riders starting their first loop.  Around mile 80 I was passed by Jozsef Major who was absolutely flying.  Then at mile 105, I was passed by Colin Laughery.  His pace was a bit more in my wheelhouse, so I stayed in contact with him the best I could, as I weaved through wave upon wave of age groupers and vehicles on the road to and from Chickamauga.  Once we took a right on 193 and headed back into town, I was able to really put my head down again and finish the bike strong.

The heat was an absolute beast today.  I have done 5 out of 7 Ironman triathlons in hot, humid conditions:  2007 IM Louisville, 2009 IM Kona, 2012 IM Texas, 2012 IM Kona, and now 2016 IM Chattanooga.  I never thought anything would top my experience at Ironman Texas, but this past weekend came awfully close, and was certainly equal to, if not more difficult.  I just really struggled almost from the start to balance how much fluid/electrolytes I needed to take in to compensate for what my body was losing.  I could feel my head cooking in my ventilated aero helmet, and the water I poured on myself through the aid stations didn’t provide a cooling effect that lasted very long.

 

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Smooth sailing out of T2

I started the run right beside Colin, but quickly I pulled ahead and made my way down the first, long stretch of the run course.  I’m no stranger to running alone in long course triathlon, so I focused on staying relaxed and staying cool.   I really had no clue where I was in relation to those up ahead of me until I reached the other side of the river, where I was passed by several pros who were in the neighborhood of 20 minutes ahead of me.  I stayed confident that if I executed a solid run, at least a couple of those guys would come back to me.  When I crossed the pedestrian bridge right at 13 miles, I got a split to 10th place at 1:30.  Yes!  Finally someone to chase down!

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Feeling Hot

Unfortunately two miles later, I was halted in my tracks with a debilitating side stitch.  The stitch would dissipate after stretching so I could run again, but 50-100 meters later it would return, and I would have to stop and bend/stretch it out all over again.  This process happened from mile 15-mile 21.  It was a really rough section for me, and for a few moments I thought that I would have to walk/jog all the way in.  As I came up to mile 21, I finally decided to walk for 200m straight, take a huge bottle of electrolyte drink, and slam the entire thing before I even thought about running again.  So I did, and when I got back to running again, I was able to hold it together much better.  The last 5 miles of the race weren’t the prettiest miles I’ve ever run, but I did run and managed to salvage what I still consider an extremely subpar run, even in the conditions I was operating in.  I finished in 11th overall in 9:06 and change.

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Where is the ice?

I am very conflicted with my result from this race.  On one hand, I am extremely disappointed with how I executed certain parts of my race which may have had a large impact on my finishing outcome.  My tactical error at the tail end of the swim/T1/beginning of bike cost me quite a bit I believe, and staying on top of my sodium better would have potentially prevented that bad 5 mile stretch of the marathon.  On the other, I had a great swim, and when things weren’t going my way, I continued to fight.

Overall this was my worst IM for the kind of shape I was in and it was my worst overall placing ever in a pro triathlon race, but I remain confident that I can produce my best IM yet in the near future.

The volunteers for this race were nothing short of spectacular.  The vibrancy and enthusiasm of the run course aid station volunteers blew my mind.  I know it was hot for everyone, not just the racers, and they just gave so much of themselves all afternoon.

I was so thankful to have Tori, Cassidy, Greg, and my dad there to support me.  I am proud to represent the Snapple Triathlon Team and its sponsors – Xterra Wetsuits, First Endurance, Garneau, Sweatvac, Rudy Project, Trainingpeaks, and Diamondback Bikes.

With a handful of solid results culminating with a 2nd overall at Eagleman 70.3, I feel that I’ve turned a corner this year, and I am absolutely looking forward to building on my momentum in 2017!

2016 Eagleman 70.3

Eagleman 70.3

 

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another”

  • Walter Elliot

 

Back in 2013 I started my journey racing as a professional triathlete with the ultimate goal of consistently placing on the podiums in prestigious races and possibly even winning one. Reaching the pro podium proved to be quite the challenge!  While I’ve never finished out of the top 10, I consistently finish between 6th and 10th place.  After two years of doing things the same way and getting the same results, I decided to mix things up.  I hired a coach, I got a new bike, and I got to work.

At the end of May, I raced a 70.3 in Chattanooga, and recorded a less-than-mediocre 10th place finish.  I knew I was capable of more, I just didn’t put it together on the day.  So three weeks later I found myself wading in the Choptank River with 20 other pros ready to start Eagleman 70.3.

On paper the pro field wasn’t nearly as accomplished as the one I had raced against in Chattanooga, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from racing over the past 20 years, it’s never to underestimate anyone. Each pro on that starting line has accumulated a deep list of strong race results, and only the foolish would discount any professional who has earned the right to be there.

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Eagleman pro start

 

Having said that, the swim played out perfectly for me. There weren’t any super swimmers in the field, so while two guys jumped off the front about 90 seconds in front of the group, the lead group of 10-12 racers stayed together the entire way.  I was able to stay in contact in the opening minutes (and believe me, there was a lot of contact), and then just kept my eyes on the group the entire way around the course.  I felt steady and comfortable, and if someone started to pull off the front, I was absolutely ready to throw in a surge to close it down.  That never happened, and I decided to stay tucked in to the group and come out as comfortably as possible.  (11th OA, 28:04)

Transition took a little more time than usual- I decided to roll my sleeved top down during the swim to increase some shoulder mobility, but getting the wet top on while running to my bike proved to be challenging. I believe I lost one spot in the race here, and hopped on the bike in 12th place, right at the tail end of the main group.

It was such a relief to be heading out on the bike with others, but I quickly realized that the riders that came out in the front of the group were creating a gap to some of us in the rear, so I put my head down and went to work. The Diamondback felt incredible.  I think the biggest thing for me is the ride quality.  The Serios is so responsive.  That was the one thing that I never felt my old bike could do.  I always felt like I was riding a Mack Truck when I rode it, and on technical courses I never felt like I could keep any sort of momentum.  That has never been the case with the Serios – when I want to go, it goes!  I steadily moved up through the field over the first hour.  Around that time, I reached my old college teammate Kyle Pawlaczyk.  He was riding well, and it took me about 10 minutes before I was ready to move past and set the pace on my own.  Fortunately, once I moved past him, I almost immediately saw another small group up the road, which turned out to be the lead chase group.  Once I bridged the gap to the group, I sat up and weighed my options.  I was sitting in 5th on the road, but I knew all three of the guys in that group, and I knew they were all strong runners.  So I decided to push the pace for the next 15 miles and see if I could break them a bit.  Turns out that the only guy willing/able to come with me was Thomas Gerlach, who I had ridden the final miles with in Chattanooga.  He was intent on keeping the pace hot, so over the final 10 miles we took turns at the front trying to create as large of a gap on the rest as we could.  I set a new 70.3 bike split PR by just about 3 minutes on similar power as I’ve ridden in previous races.  Cheers to Diamondback and Rudy Project for getting me through that bike course as efficiently as possible!  (2nd fastest bike split on the day, 2:06:52)DSCN0701

Eagleman run start

 

Rolling into transition, Gerlach had put about 5-10 seconds into me. I knew I was currently in third, and I was pumped to be starting the run that far up in the race.  I threw on a running singlet (for the first time ever in a tri, but hey, it was hot!) and got on with it.  As I was heading out onto the run course, Kyle came in with the two others from that initial chase group in tow.  So I had somewhere around 10 seconds to Gerlach and close to 45 seconds over fourth.  The big change was that this time around, unlike in Chattanooga, I felt good!  Finally I had my legs and I was ready to race aggressively, not reactively.  I took over second place within a half mile, and then focused on pressing on the best I could.  At the first mile I received a time gap to Cody Beals, who was running way up ahead in first place:  4:30.  Woof.  That’s a lot of time, and Cody is no slouch on the run.  So I stayed relaxed, controlled my core temperature with water and ice through the aid stations, and told myself if I got another split halfway through the run and I was gaining on him, that I would take some risks on the back half.  Honestly I was still concerned with having at least four guys charging behind me within a minute, and protecting second was still very important to me.  Unfortunately I never did receive any additional time splits to the lead, but I did continue to gain on third.  With a few miles to go third was well behind out of sight, so I was able to focus on finishing well and in control.  (2nd fastest run, 1:18:38)

Eagleman finish

 

Coming down the finishing chute to finish second was exhilarating. I set a new personal record for the distance: 3:56:38, lopping off two and a half minutes from my previous best time.  The recent changes in equipment, technique, and approach to the sport served me well, and I was finally able to meet that goal.  I was still disappointed that I couldn’t put myself in position to challenge for the win, but that will have to come another day.  The key takeaways for me are that I am still improving year over year, and I now have the knowledge that I do have what it takes in training and in racing to become a perennial podium placer in long course triathlon.

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Big thanks to my family for their constant support, my coach Dave Luscan for his guidance and expertise, the Snapple Triathlon Team, Xterra Wetsuits, Diamondback Bikes, Rudy Project, First Endurance, LG, and Sweatvac. Without just one of those crucial pieces, I am an incomplete puzzle who would still be searching for his first IM 70.3 Pro Podium.

 

Nutrition:

Breakfast:

2 cups Maple + Brown Sugar Oatmeal (360 kcal)

1 bottle EFS PRO Lemon Water (120 kcal)

1 banana (100 kcal)

 

Pre-race:

1 gel + water

 

On the bike:

2 bottles containing 4 scoops EFS Pro Lemon Water + 1.5 servings of EFS Vanilla Liquid Shot (620 kcal)

1 large bottle of water

+ a couple sips of some Gatorade Endurance at an aid station (20 kcal)

 

On the run:

1 flask w/ 1 serving of EFS Liquid shot + 1 serving of EFS Pro Lemon Water (140 kcal)

Coke @ every 4 aid stations (100 kcal)

Water and Ice at every aid station

Ironman Chattanooga 70.3

Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 Race Report

 

Well, I got it done. That pretty much sums up my experience at the 2016 IM Chattanooga 70.3.  It was a disappointing race on many levels, but I was able to draw out a few positives, which will continue to motivate me moving forward.

Thank you to Tori and Cassidy for the sacrifices they make in allowing me to continue to pursue this sport at an elite level. Thank you to my Dad for the company on the trip, and to my friends and family for their constant support win or lose.  Thanks also to Dave, my coach, for guiding me over the past half a year and getting me into the best triathlon shape of my life.  Now to the race:

 

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Might be hard to tell, but I’m guessing I was right in between the very large first wake and the second slightly smaller wake of swimmers.

Swim (26:10) 17th Overall

I knew I had to start off this race flat out and hang with the group as long as I could. The race started, and I made it perhaps 2 or 3 minutes behind the last guy in the big group before I lost contact.  The compounding factors that made this so disappointing were how large the group was (ended up being 14 guys) and how quickly I lost contact after intentionally starting out at/over the red line.  Two guys passed me shortly after (I probably owe them an apology because they were probably on my feet and lost the group because of me).  They came through and I could follow them, but then the lead swimmer started swimming off line, so I took a tangent.  By the time they got back, they had gained several body lengths on me.  I pushed hard again, but could not regain the space that had opened up.  So there was my swim.  I did basically the remaining mile solo trying desperately to catch a couple guys working with each other 30 seconds up the river.

 

Bike (2:13:02) 11th Overall

So for those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you may have seen a fiberglass solution for my between the aerobars water bottle holder. I was quite proud of myself, and after testing it out a couple days before the race, I was confident it would do the trick.  Within a mile of starting the bike, I hit a bump in the road, simultaneously launching my rear bottle from its cage and cracking the fiberglass in half, rendering its capability of securing holding a bottle useless.  So as I’m figuring out what to do with my front bottle, I notice my rear bottle was gone (which turned out to work perfectly, because I just put the front one in the rear cage, but also eliminated a perfectly good bottle of EFS Pro that I was counting on).  Once I got everything cleaned up and reorganized, I got to work.  I caught two guys within the first 10 miles, and then averaged catching a guy about every 10 miles after that.  The course was certainly hillier than Williamsburg, but I felt comfortable on my Diamondback and was able to stay aero.  The last guy I passed was Thomas Gerlach from the US Pro Tri team, right before the long descent out of the town of Chickamauga.  I pushed as hard as I could all the way back on the flat section heading back into Tennessee.  He was riding well, and was able to stay with me.  Between miles 45 and 50 I just hit a wall, and the power dropped pretty drastically.  Gerlach repassed me, and I just tried to stay within contact until we arrived to T2.  Left quad really tightened up on the way back into town, so I spent the last miles trying to work it out in preparation for the run and trying to stay in close contact with Gerlach so that I had someone to start of the run with.  Uploading the power file to the coach was not fun, because I have had MANY workouts with much better quality riding in them.  I can ride much better than I did today.

 

Run (1:17:47) 10th Overall

Immediately starting off on the run, I had to continue to work out that sharp tightness in my left quad. Not sure why, but it just set the stage for a run that I would consider average at best. Considering how I’ve felt on many of the brick runs I’ve done in training, I would consider this baby below average.

Working out the legs a bit
Working out the legs a bit

It took me just over 2 miles to reel back Gerlach to reclaim 10th.  From there I tried to reclaim the legs I’ve had in training sessions, but they never appeared.  I was apparently slowly gaining on several of the guys ahead of me, but for the remaining 10 miles I never got within a minute of anyone.

 

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Looked solid on the run, but legs just would not move any faster today
Finishing Chute
Finishing Chute

So I continued my streak of never finishing out of the top 10 in a professional triathlon race, but it wasn’t the result that I know I’m currently capable to producing.  Maybe a little rust, maybe the loss of some of the nutrition on the bike played a factor, maybe just not my day, not quite sure.

What I do know is that by earning a result like this last year I would have been quite pleased with myself against this kind of field. Not this year.  Not with the work I’ve put in.  Not with the knowledge and confidence that I can do better.  So I guess that “reframing of my mental outlook” is a shift that I can build on.

The massage hurt oh so good
The massage hurt oh so good

 

I have several goals that stem from this race:

  1. Do well enough in a major triathlon so that the editors at Slowtwitch.com spell my last name correctly. When making the summary results list, my name has been spelled incorrectly 2 out of 3 times. I guess it probably doesn’t make much difference for the guy who finishes 6th or 7th or 10th. So Slowtwitch, I see what you’re doing there. Kudos for providing some additional motivation.
  2. Keep working on the swim. Maybe it’s changing, and it’s just not there. The swim continues to be my Achilles heel of triathlon, even at the 70.3 distance. I swim a minute and a half faster and all of a sudden I put myself into the bike race with a decent amount of company. Most of that minute likely needs to be made in the first 500 meters, though, as I barely had a chance right out of the gate and swam my race practically solo for the last mile.
  3. I’m a bit conflicted about this one, because I believe being humble and quietly confident is who I am and is one of my strengths, but maybe, just maybe I need to be a bit more aggressive about talking the talk so that I can actually walk the walk. I certainly run the risk of looking and sounding like a total idiot, but I know I can compete with the upper tier of guys in long course triathlon.

The new one piece Snapple tri suit was amazing today, my Diamondback Serios was quick and responsive, even when my legs weren’t, my Xterra speedsuit got me through the water, and I wish I had been able to use more of that delicious and effective EFS Pro Lemon Water!

Patriots Half 2015

Give Me Five!

 

Well, it was a little more like I had to earn five, but nonetheless, I walked away last Saturday with my fifth consecutive Patriots Half title.  It was by far the most difficult win of the five, presenting some challenges that I hadn’t faced in years’ past.

Historically I have been one of the stronger swimmers in this field, but this year Ian King was back to tackle the entire race, and Dan Harris, another pro was here for a bit of redemption from a 2nd place finish two years ago.  I decided to start right next to Ian and figured that I would be able to catch a draft for an extremely short period of time.  Maybe it might be enough to gap myself from the rest of the field.  When the race started I executed my plan perfectly, hopped right onto Ian’s hip, and hung on for dear life.  I made it in his slipstream about a minute before he popped me off.  There was another swimmer up with Ian, and then one guy who was just to my left around the first buoy.  Once I lost contact with Ian, I thought to myself, “Ok, let’s just work with this guy, who is obviously swimming pretty well right now.”  So as he pulled up beside me and then slightly ahead of me, I was ready to work together and limit my losses to the top two guys.  Then before I knew it, he just dropped the hammer and was gone.  It was such a violent change of speed that I wasn’t prepared for, but I hardly doubt that it would have mattered anyways.  I’m pretty sure this is the guy who came out of the water first, so not only did he drop me, but he also ended up bridging the gap to the leaders and then gaining some time on them too.  So that left me on my own for probably a mile out of the 1.2 mile swim.  The river was a little choppy today, and they definitely made the race go against the harder section of the current.  After it was all said and done, I came out of the water with just a 2:18 deficit on the first swimmer, and with about 2 minutes flat on Ian King.  I also had opened up about 2 minutes on anyone else in the race, so I was happy that I would have a buffer on Dan Harris going into the bike.

My transition was quick enough where I left T1 in 3rd place, and then set off to hunt down the leaders.  I stayed conservative early on, knowing that although I couldn’t see the cyclists ahead of me, they were literally just up the road by a couple minutes.  Once I turned onto Wilcox Neck, I started riding with a bit more purpose, and before mile 15 I caught and passed second place on the road.  He looked strong, but it was evident that he would not be able to sustain my pace, so I went on in search of Ian.  For a while I was a little worried.  I figured that I would be catching Ian a little faster given my pace, but I still couldn’t see him or the lead motorcycle.   Luckily, on the long stretch of road before the turn onto Sturgeon Point, I saw the flashing lights, and I knew I was within a minute.  That was comforting, and it helped me to relax a little.  Right around that time, I hit a bump, and the bottle behind my saddle popped right off, hitting the road and then spilling all over.  It only had about 200 calories of electrolyte drink, and I knew the race would have a few more aid stations where I could get some Gatorade, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

Did I mention it was incredibly humid?  While it never rained on me the entire race, apparently once we left transition and headed out of town, it just poured for a few minutes.  So it was overcast, but athletes were losing lots of fluids throughout the morning.

I was prepared to get Gatorade at the second aid station, but unfortunately I was way too fast, and they weren’t quite ready for me.   I knew at that point that I would basically need to stop at the final aid station 15 miles later and make sure I was able to get some fluids, or I would be in for it.  During that time, I continued to inch closer and closer to Ian.  My sense of urgency wasn’t there, because I also knew that nobody was too close behind me either, and I was confident that I could throw down a decent run split to close out the race.  So by the time I got to the third aid station, I was about 10 seconds behind Ian, I basically stopped to make sure I got the bottle, and then spent a little time basically chugging the water.  I finished the bottle way too fast, and I knew that I would be in trouble if I didn’t pay special attention to drinking on the run course.  Starting a half marathon in a dehydrated state is never a good idea!  Ian had put another 10-15 seconds into me during that time, so it took another 10 miles or so to really close back down on him, and by the time I got to within 5 seconds of him, we were turning onto Greensprings Road and preparing to dismount.  So I just stayed where I was, let Ian lead into T2 because frankly he earned it.  I know he had the motorcycle with him, but unfortunately the motorcycle only goes as fast as you are riding.  I was able to judge my effort off of the motorcycle, so I had a big advantage there.

Ian had a crazy fast T2 and put another couple of seconds on me entering the run course.  I felt ok, but definitely knew it would be a slog once I started going.  I tried to stay calm and relaxed, and let my pace come to me.  Sometimes you just can’t force things.  I took the lead just before the mile mark, gave Ian a couple words of encouragement, and then went to work.  By mile 4 I had put about 3 minutes into Ian, who was still holding on to second place.  I did notice Dan Harris was making a move and was only about 90 seconds back from Ian at that point.  By the time I reached mile 7, Dan had taken over second place, but was about 5:30 behind me.  So he was running well, but I was still inching away from him.  That gave me confidence, especially as I was starting to feel the effects of the humidity and the race up until that point.  At mile 11 I had close to 7 minutes on Dan, so from that point on I just went into cruise control and came in as relaxed as I could.  I was going to be about a minute away from my course record, but at that point, finishing strong and controlled was more important to me than 60 seconds.  Dan Harris finished just over 6 minutes behind me in the closest Patriot’s Half finish I have had to date, which is a true testament to his steady improvement year by year.  Soon, a course record effort will be necessary in order to win this race, which would be amazing.  I think the Patriot’s Half is an incredible race with a fun, honest course, and I would love to see the top end of the field grow and become one of the more competitive events on the East Coast.   Ian held on to third place and got a nice paycheck for his efforts, although he might be a bit more disenchanted with long course after his experience.  I think it would be great to meet somewhere in the middle, perhaps an Olympic distance, and duke it out with him.

As I figured I would be, I was pretty smashed after finishing.  It took me a few hours to rehydrate and get my body back up to speed.  One thing that brought my overall spirit up was hearing about how all of the Otstot’s Hotshots did in their respective races!  In the Olympic we had four athletes, and all four took first place in their respective categories.  In the Half, we had a 30 minute personal best, and a first time finisher who broke 5:30 under very difficult running conditions.  What an awesome day!

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